By Stephanie Dawn As Christians, prayer is one of the necessary components in our spiritual journey. Prayer keeps us spiritually alive, and it opens the door for God to do miracles in our lives as well as in the lives of those for whom we pray. Unfortunately, we often make reference to prayer without fully understanding its significance. Sometimes prayer chains can become a form of gossip, and sometimes when someone comes to us with a problem that makes us uncomfortable, we respond by saying, “I’ll pray for you,” as a means of dodging a conversation that pulls us out of our comfort zone. If we really understood the role that we as God’s people are called to play on this earth and how deeply prayer is involved in this role, we would not treat prayer so casually.
After God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them to Mount Sinai. As they camped in the wilderness near the mountain, God gave Moses a message for His people. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). During Bible times, only the descendants of Aaron were permitted to serve as priests in the temple, but the Israelites were also to be a kingdom of priests. God has given this same role to His people today. “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation1:5-6). After God liberated the children of Israel from their Egyptian taskmasters, He gave them the privilege of being a kingdom of priests, provided that they keep His commandments. The experience of the Israelites symbolizes the experience of Christians today. When we accept God’s gift of salvation, He sets us free from the enslavement of sin, and if we live in obedience to God’s law, we, too, will have the privilege of being a kingdom of priests.
So what does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? The prayer of Daniel provides an answer to this question. Daniel was not a priest, yet he interceded on behalf of Israel, fasting and confessing his sins as well as the sins of his people. Notice how Daniel communicated with God in his prayer. “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You” (Daniel 9:4-7). Like all of humanity, Daniel was born with a sinful nature, but he did not rebel against God. He did not live the wicked life that most of the children of Israel lived before their captivity in Babylon. Unlike most of Israel, he did not turn away from God, yet he identified himself with the sins of his people, and by praying in this manner he interceded on their behalf. In verses 16 through 19 Daniel concluded his prayer by acknowledging the fact that he and his people had no righteousness in themselves. They were not worthy to come before God, but Daniel threw himself and his people upon God’s mercy. Daniel was clearly aware of the great controversy and the fact that God’s name is at stake, and he appealed to God to answer his prayer based upon this fact. “O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” In verses 20 through 23 of the same chapter we are told that Daniel’s prayer was answered even before he had finished praying. In fact, as soon as Daniel started praying, God commanded Gabriel to go to Daniel and explain to him the 70 week prophecy.
During Bible times, the priests interceded on behalf of the people by offering animal sacrifices, which symbolized Christ’s gift of salvation to the world. As God’s kingdom of priests today, we intercede on behalf of others, not by offering animal sacrifices, but by lifting them up in prayer. Just like Daniel, we come humbly yet confidently before God, acknowledging our unrighteousness and falling upon God’s mercy. When praying for those who have not accepted Christ or have wandered away from Him, we plead for God to pardon them and to take whatever steps are necessary to bring them to Him. Just as the high priest was the only one permitted to enter the Most Holy Place in the temple, Jesus as high priest is the only one who can stand in the Father’s presence and intercede on our behalf, but we have a lesser priesthood to perform, the act of interceding on behalf of others through earnest and persistent prayer.
The experience of Moses is a powerful illustration of the result of intercessory prayer. When Moses was communing with God on the mountain, God informed Moses that the children of Israel had made a golden calf and were worshipping it. Then God said to Moses, “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). God does not have a violent, impulsive temper. He did not need Moses to restrain Him from carrying out an act of uncontrolled rage. If God had truly wanted to destroy His people, He could have done so in an instant without consulting Moses, and He would not have needed Moses to leave His presence in order to accomplish His purpose. When God told Moses to let Him alone so that He could destroy Israel, He was testing Moses to see how he would respond. He was giving Moses an opportunity to intercede on behalf of Israel, and Moses immediately seized upon this opportunity by quoting God’s own words back to Him and referring to the fact that God’s character would be viewed in a negative light if He destroyed Israel. “LORD,” Moses pleaded, “why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-13). Because Moses took advantage of the opportunity God had given him to intercede on behalf of Israel, God did not destroy His people.
In Exodus chapter 34 we read that God gave Moses the privilege of seeing His glory. During this beautiful experience, God described His character to Moses by saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). This statement is crucial to keep in mind when reading about another opportunity for Moses to intercede on behalf of Israel, found in Numbers chapter 14.
The children of Israel were on the border of Canaan, but the negative report given by ten of the twelve spies who were sent to investigate the land filled the people’s hearts with unbelief. This unbelief soon turned into rage, and a riot broke out. Then God said to Moses, “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they” (Numbers 14:11-12). Once again God gave Moses the opportunity to intercede, and once again Moses used this opportunity. He pointed out to God that by destroying Israel His character would be misunderstood. He said, “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, LORD, are among these people; that You, LORD, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness’” (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses had not forgotten what God had said about Himself on the day that God had revealed His glory to Moses, and now, as Moses once again pleaded for the children of Israel, he quoted some of God’s own words back to Him. “And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Numbers 14:17-19). Once again God answered Moses’ plea. He gave Moses the reassuring response, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (Numbers 14:20). Because of their unbelief, God would not permit the people to enter Canaan, but the intercessory prayer of Moses prompted God to pardon them and not to destroy them. We should never underestimate the power of intercessory prayer, especially when we quote Scripture and claim God’s promises in our prayers.
To stop praying for others is a very serious fault. In fact, according to the Bible, it is a sin. “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23). We can never afford to take prayer for granted. As the sins of Israel multiplied, God bore long with them. He sent prophet after prophet to them in an effort to warn them of their danger and to urge them to return to Him, but they stubbornly refused to listen. Gladly would God have answered the prayer of any one of His people if they had only confessed their sins and interceded on Israel’s behalf! “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30). Tragically, there came a point at which it was too late to pray for Israel. In Jeremiah chapter 15 verse 1, God made this sobering statement concerning the children of Israel. “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.” In Jeremiah chapter 7 verse 16 God said to Jeremiah, “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you.” We have only a window of time during which we can intercede on behalf of others, and that window of time is different for each person. We have no way of knowing when the window of opportunity for each person will close. This is why it is so crucial that we pray without ceasing for those whom God has placed upon our hearts. If we neglect our duty to pray for these people, many of them will pass beyond the point of being reached by the Holy Spirit, and it will be too late.
On the other hand, incredible miracles will take place in the lives of many lost souls if we persist in praying for them. We can all gather hope from the story of Stephen. As Stephen was being stoned to death, his dying words were an intercessory prayer on behalf of those who were murdering him. “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). Stephen’s prayer was not in vain. Present at his stoning was a young man named Saul. One look at Saul’s life might have led many of the Christians who knew him to conclude that he was a lost cause, but God saw what no one else could see. Saul went from being a hater and persecutor of the church to being one of the greatest Evangelists of his day, carrying the Gospel far and wide and leading many to the feet of Jesus. Only in Heaven will Stephen learn of the amazing result of his intercessory prayer as seen through the conversion of Saul. What joy Stephen will feel when he talks to Saul in Heaven and hears Saul’s testimony for the first time! If we persist in earnest intercession on behalf of others, refusing to stop praying until our prayers are answered, we, too, will feel this same unutterable joy when we are united with those we have prayed for in the Heavenly kingdom.